STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS
by Jack Thorne.
Palace Theatre 20 Clarendon Street WD17 1JZ To 28 August.
Sat 4.30pm & 8pm.
TICKETS: 01923 225671.
then Crucible Studio Theatre 55 Norfolk Street S1 1DA 11-28 September 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat 19, 21, 26 28 Sept 2.15pm
TICKETS: 0114 249 6000.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 August.
A play well worth seeing forwards.
When you delve into somebody else’s life, things tend to turn up backward. Like revelations in drama, one discovery leads further towards first causes. So with Jack Thorne’s new play, based on Alexander Masters’ biography of Stuart Shorter.
Thorne has shaped Alexander’s book into a one-act play with a 3-part structure, moving with increasing seriousness from group comedy to a substantial meeting between Stuart and Alexander, to exploration of Stuart’s family history – all driven by Stuart’s frankness, giving him a vulnerability he shields by forceful verbal attacks.
Stuart has nothing but personality going for him. Except on stage, where his muscular dystrophy makes for distinctive movement and voice, and where his directness has a pungency that’s comic and menacing by turns. Fraser Ayres expresses all this finely in a well-judged performance which never seeks to sensationalise or demand sympathy.
Alexander would never have met Stuart without a campaign to free two leaders of a Cambridge shelter for the homeless who’d been imprisoned for alleged involvement with drug-dealing in the place.
Stuart comes to a public meeting in the campaign, with a wall-poster he’s torn down. That’s Stuart’s way; he needs it, he takes it. As candid about his actions as about his views on people, he has the street-survivor’s first-hand knowledge of how the authorities react. And he’s come to be perceptive about people.
He’s candid about Alexander’s first go at a biography, spurring him on to new discoveries, none surprising in dramatic terms but disturbing as having happened to any individual. Surviving them speaks loudly of Stuart’s resilience, and helps explain why biographer and playwright wanted to devote time to him.
Alexander certainly does, to the cost of his own relationship. The play, and Mark Rosenblatt’s smooth production, keeps all other characters to the functional – something expressed in a scene where they give a comic sense of life to books and ornaments Stuart finds in his new friend’s home.
.When all is explained there’s little to laugh about, but the sense Peter Shaffer’s Equus gave in the 1970s of the disturbed life providing an intensity denied to most.
Alexander: Will Adamsdale.
Stuart: Fraser Ayres.
Gavvy: John Cummins.
Fat Frank: Mike Godenough.
Phoebe: Sophie Ruissell.
Karen: Kirsty Woodward.
Director: Mark Rosenblatt.
Designer: Jon Bausor.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound: Lemez and Fridel.
Movement: Lucy Hind.
Assistant director: Poppy Rowley.
Associate designer: Rebecca Brower.